about the artist
Born in Dallas, Billy Woodberry is one of the founders of the LA Rebellion film movement (also known as the Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers). He received his MFA from UCLA in 1982 where he also taught at the School of Theater, Film and Television. In 1989, he became a permanent faculty member of the School of Film/Video and the School of Art at the California Institute of the Arts, until he moved to Portugal.
When a student at UCLA, he completed the short film, The Pocketbook (1978), inspired by a story by Langston Hughes, “Thank You, M’am.” After trying to steal the pocketbook of a middle-aged laundry worker, a young boy is forced to ask himself questions about survival and morality. The film features music by Leadbelly, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis.
Woodberry’s first feature film, Bless Their Little Hearts (1984), is a pioneering and essential work of the LA Rebellion movement, influenced by Italian neo-realism and the work of Third Cinema filmmakers. The film was awarded with an OCIC and Ecumenical Jury awards at the Berlin International Film Festival and was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2013.
Woodberry appeared in Haile Gerima’s Ashes to Embers (1982) and in Charles Burnett’s When It Rains (1995) He provided narration for Thom Andersen’s and Noel Burch’s Red Hollywood (1996) and James Benning’s Four Corners (1998). In 2003-2004, he collaborated with artist/photographer/filmmaker Allan Sekula on Facing the Music, an exhibition and screening project about the construction of the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles (where REDCAT is housed). His video, The Architect, the Ants and the Bees, a component of this project, documents not only the impact that the construction had on the city but also concentrates on the gender and racial makeup of the workforce that built it.
In 2015, he completed And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead, a documentary about the Black Beat poet Bob Kaufman. The film had its world premiere at the Viennale, was presented at the opening night of MoMA’s Doc Fortnight in 2016, and was featured in a number of film festivals nationally and internationally.
His short documentary, Marseille après la guerre (2016), presents a montage from a selection of black-and-white photographs belonging to the collection of the National Maritime Union. A portrait of dock workers in post-WWII Marseille, black and white in solidarity, the film represents the world that Ousmane Sembène,the father of African cinema, experienced when he worked as a docker in Marseille in the 1940s.
In A Story from Africa (2019), Woodberry delves into the thousands of shots taken by army photographer Velloso de Castro to keep a visual record of the 1907 Portuguese “pacification campaign” in the South of Angola. After the 1885 Berlin Conference resolution on the partition of Africa, the Portuguese army occupied the territory conquered in 1907 belonging to the Cuamato people. Caught between internal strife and colonialist greed, a Cuamato nobleman, Calipalula, was to play a significant and tragic role.
Woodberry’s films have been screened at the Cannes and Berlin Film Festivals, Viennale, Rotterdam, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Harvard Film Archive, Camera Austria Symposium, Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou, and BAMPFA in Berkeley, among other venues.
In 2017, Woodberry became a Guggenheim fellow
list of films
The Pocketbook (1978)
Dir. Billy Woodberry, 13 min.
The Architect, the Ants and the Bees (2004)
Dir. Billy Woodberry, 60 min.
Marseille après la guerre (2016)
Dir. Billy Woodberry, 12 min.
A Story From Africa (2019)
Dir. Billy Woodberry, 32 min.